On May 21, 2010, Medal of Honor recipient John W. Finn passed away at a Veteran’s
Home in San Diego California.
Mr. Finn was the oldest (100) Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, the first Medal
recipient of WWII and the oldest recipient from Pearl Harbor. John was born on July 24,
1909 in Los Angeles and I’ve had the privilege of knowing him for over 33 years
and for the past 14 years he’s been my neighbor in the rural mountain community of
Boulevard located in east San Diego County. I’m just one of many that will truely miss his
great stories, humor and watching his eyes twinkle with mischief whenever he was around
a pretty girl.
Mr. Finn received the Medal of Honor for extraordinary heroism, distinguished service
and devotion above and beyond the call of duty. During the attack on the Naval Air
Station, Kaneohe Bay December 7, 1941, LT Finn manned a .50 caliber machine gun in
a completely exposed area that was taking strafing fire. John held his position for two
hours even though he had sustained serious wounds (21) from shrapnel.
LT Finn received his Medal of Honor September 14, 1942 on board the USS Enterprise
in Pearl Harbor by Admiral Chester Nimitz.
John’s heroic actions were portrayed in the movie, “Tora, Tora, Tora”. John always took
great pride in receiving the Medal but had told me many times that, ” I would have given
the Medal back in an instant if it could have saved just one of the many brave men that
died that day”. That was John. Vaya con Dios my friend.
A Few Memories of John
Whenever I went to visit John, we would usually sit on his front porch where he would
break into one of his many stories and tales that were sure to follow. Each story would
lead to the next and so on. I always wanted to know about his motorcycling past and
sooner or later the conversation would finally get there. John was an avid motorcyclist
back in the day when you either owned a Harley or an Indian, but one of his last bikes
always peaked my interest. He had a Vincent Black Shadow stored in his barn. I could
never convince him to let me take it out for a spin as I had heard and read many stories
about the Vincent and was dying to ride one. That never happened.
One day I found some of John’s cattle in my hay barn having a great lunch. It took us
quite awhile to get them all rounded up and one had broken a water pipe causing a bit
One day John and his son brought a tractor over to clear some brush for me that was a
little too close to the house and a fire hazard. It happened to be about 95 degrees that
day and I thought John would just stand by while his son ran the tractor. Next thing I
knew, John was dragging brush out of the way, digging out roots and directing his son
on what to do next. This was when John was a mere 88 years old. I think working hard
all his life is what helped John reach 100 years old.
In 2009 John turned 100 years old and the community, Military and dignitaries put
together a celebration over Memorial Day where about 1500 people showed up. John
thought it was just going to be a few local people getting together. He was picked up at
home by a whole caravan of vehicles including the one he rode in which was a World
War II Jeep with everyone dressed in period costumes. Tailing the entire 5 mile drive to
the celebration was about 50 motorcycles.
This was one of the first times I had ever seen John speechless. John was overwhelmed
during the various speeches and presentations. The two that touched him the most
included a large granite stone engraved with his photo, Medal of Honor and brief history
of his actions at Pearl Harbor. The monument can be seen today at the La Posta Cafe
on Old Hwy 80 just off I-8 in east San Diego County.
The other was a 2009 Harley commemorating Memorial Day that was decorated with
numerous medals, gold insignias and photos about World War II with a painted photo on
the tank of young John with his Medal. Rumor is that the bike will be in the Smithsonian.
I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place during most parts of the celebration.
Well, that’s just a few of my John Finn memories and all I can say is, “it’s been a great
honor to have known John for the time he was with us.”
For more info and photos go to: John W. Finn